Words AMIT GAIKWAD
One of India’s most ancient cities sits on the banks of the River Vaigai in Tamil Nadu. Madurai (formerly known as Madura) is more than 2,500 years old and boasts a rich culture and heritage. The city is home to a thousand temples, but it’s the Meenakshi Amman Temple that grabs the limelight (Madurai Main). And, it takes a day or two in Madurai to convince you that there is more to this vibrant city than just its temples. Here, if you open your mind to revelation, you can expect the unexpected.
Begin by checking into the luxurious Heritage Madurai. Designed by renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, the resort is spread across 17 lush acres, and hosts 72 rooms and 34 villas, each with its private plunge pool. The highlight is its Olympic-sized swimming pool. Like an oasis in the middle of nowhere, this property is hidden in the chaos at the heart of the city.
Make it a point to step out from your chic cocoon. The concierge will be happy to help you organise a short tour of the city. Head to the Madurai Flower Market at the crack of dawn (TNHB Colony). Don’t be intimidated by the crowds, as you weave your way through the lanes and bylanes of the market to stumble upon a huge variety of flowers to be dispatched across the country in just a few hours. Next on the agenda is an exclusive rickshaw ride (free; tips appreciated). The 30-minute tour takes you around temples, markets, streets and other landmarks you might otherwise have easily missed.
It will now be time to indulge in some local breakfast. Order favourites like medu vada, idli sambar or dosa, and end your meal with a cup of piping-hot filter coffee. Head back to the property for some well-deserved rest. Post lunch at the property, head to the famous.
Gandhi Memorial Museum . Spread over 13 acres, the museum offers a glimpse not only into the life of the father of the nation, but also details India’s journey to independence. Browse through a collection of photographs, documents and artefacts that are beautifully displayed at the museum.
By evening, sample the delicious street food of Madurai. First on the menu should be the mutton kari dosai at the famous Simmakkal Konar Kadai beside Thangareegal Theatre, West Veli St, Periyar; mutton kari dosai: This is a three-layered treat: first comes a plain dosa base, then a layer of omelette, and, finally a topping of minced meat. Sounds and tastes incredible! Next, head to Aavin Junction to try another local delicacy, bun parotta . This famous street snack is a version of the humble parotta – made fluffier with the addition of eggs, milk, butter, sugar, and banana. The parotta goes well with a serving of spicy mutton curry. End your flavourful evening with a glass of jigarthanda at the Famous Jigarthanda Shop; this is a local drink of milk with sugar and almonds. At the end of these adventures, roll yourself back to your temporary home away from home, Heritage Madurai. The next day, do it all over again.